A Travellerspoint blog

Last Scoop is the Best Scoop

June 11th, 2010

sunny 35 °C

Fridays have always been a popular choice as the favorite day of the week. For me, it was mixed feelings. Today meant that it was the last day I had to attend school. It was the last time to make formal goodbyes. It was the day I was breaking my cycle.

My classmate and best friend out of my Chinese class, Alex, was going to throw me and my American classmates a going-away party. I was not too surprised because his heart opened to foreigners, especially to me. At 1:10, I showed up for class and they threw me a party. First, Zach, Nancy, and I sat in the back as Alex began introducing himself as Mr. Chichi. He was going to sing two songs. At first, he was extremely nervous and he forgot the lyrics to “New Divide” by Linkin Park. Zach got up there with Alex to sing when there were lyrics. To have Zach take a risk and sing when he didn’t know how to sing—that shows courage.IMG_7014.jpg
Next, we were going to sing “You and Me”, which was a Chinese-English song. Alex had us all get up and link our hands. After we finished singing the song, Alex said some words that we needed to preserve the friendship between foreigners and China, making the connection stronger than speaking the same language. A few of my classmates said some goodbye-words to Zach, Nancy, and me. They also wanted to hear my last words.

I thanked them for letting me be one of their classmates and showing me China through their eyes. I thanked them for letting me a share a part of the American culture. I knew that we would always be friends and never forget this year’s time. I could not have had a better class to accept me warmly. My classmates and I can always cross the gap between America and China because we have built a bridge. There were no barriers because we were linked as the music around us sang “You and Me.”

The going-away party concluded with us taking a class picture.IMG_7028.jpg
The other going-away party was held at 3:30 at a hotel near Harbin Institute of Technology. There, almost all our parents showed up as all of us foreigners gave our PowerPoint presentations. IMG_7060.jpgThe most amazing part wasn’t presented by foreigners, but rather by my host mom. She gave a brief speech expressing her feelings towards hosting me and the impact that I have made on her daughter and her family. I cannot tell you how grateful I am for her words and I wish I could express my gratitude in Chinese as well as she does.IMG_7054.jpg
The party concluded with a few cookies and fruits. The whole car ride home, I couldn’t stop thinking about the highlights of this year in China and the impact I have made on my host family, school, and community. I have earned a second family and a second hometown.

Posted by myscope 18:20 Archived in China Comments (0)

Eve of the Last Month

May 31, 2010 In Harbin

sunny 28 °C

Once I hit June, I will only have three more weeks left in China this year. I can say that this year abroad has brought me many new insights and has tested my ability to adapt in so many ways. Of course, you’re dying to see pictures from my trip to Shanghai. In addition, I have photos from spring in Harbin and Xi’an pictures. My travels have taken me to faraway places to study Chinese ancient culture and be a part of the modern city—even while the seasons change.

In Shanghai, I faced a new kind of weather—mornings were muggy, afternoons were hot, and evenings were a cool windy breeze. The Shanghai Expo was a large part of my trip, as it was the focus of my travels. Along the way, I had a few arguments with my friends. However, when it came to seeing the Yu Yuan garden on the last day of our travels, it was the best conclusion my Shanghai trip could had. I enjoyed the scenic sites, as well as seeing modern skyscrapers, like the Pearl TV Tower, shrouded in rainy clouds.IMG_3854.jpg

Despite the ever-changing weather in Shanghai, I would recommend all of you, if you have the opportunity, to visit Shanghai while the Expo is being hosted there. It was a great place to see the culture, but I will pre-warn you that the day will be spent mostly in lines for the most popular pavilions and less of it actually being inside. There are tons of people, and most are actually Chinese citizens because this event is something to be proud of, much like the Beijing Olympics. large_IMG_3769.jpgShanghai presented a great show, but I truly felt the place was too large. It awed me that mankind could create objects on such a massive scale.

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In my photos, you will find what I recommend you to see, and here, I will tell you what I wished to see. However, I revel in the fact that I waited three hours for Saudi Arabia, because not many people are up for that kind of challenge. Because of the SA pavilion, I didn’t have the opportunity to visit the UK, Singapore, France, Republic of Korea, and India pavilion, nor any part of the Expo that was west of the Huangpu River. I have heard there are some great pavilions over there to visit. I wish you the best of travels.

My Xi’an trip happened two weeks after I had gotten back from Shanghai. IMG_5785.jpgIt was a smooth journey with my friends, because we truly bonded over someone ridiculing Matt. Rain brings rainbows, as they say. Though the trip was shorter than the one I took in Yunnan, it was much better organized. Still, it irked me that one day, we traveled to the city Hanzhong (汉中), which took 4 hours going one way just to see three sites. large_IMG_5929.jpgLike any other travel, I would recommend planning the trip yourself. Going with a travel agency means that you follow their schedule. The most time I could have exploring a place was 90 minutes. After dinner, the time was ours so we could do a little bit of exploring or some souvenir shopping.IMG_5900.jpg

In total, the Xi’an trip cost me 4350 Yuan for 5 days, including my plane fare. When I had planned my Shanghai trip, I spent a total of 3700 Yuan for 8 days, including Expo tickets, hotel and plane fare. In the future, I hope to visit Xi’an and drive to surrounding areas. There is so much more to discover about China’s ancient and traditional culture.

My_HSK_Score_7-hide.jpgBesides my travels, I have recently found out my HSK score. To refresh your memory, HSK is the official Chinese proficiency test. I had taken the Intermediate Level and passed with a 7, which is second-highest score in the Intermediate level. To me, that is the greatest accomplishment I could have wished for. I have made this year a success, with help from all those around me, especially my teachers and host family. Of course, I have to thank my mom, my grandparents, my friends, my classmates, and especially Zach, for believing in me as well.

For the next three weeks, I plan to work on my online math class, help my sister as much as I can with her English, and see what I have missed this year in Harbin. And soon, I will be packing and making my way home!

Posted by myscope 08:33 Archived in China Comments (0)

Family Connection

May 2, 2010

sunny 14 °C

I am embarking on an 8-day trip in Shanghai and I’ve been overwhelmed with everything that has brought me here. I’ve learned to take responsibility and appreciate my friends in the most desperate of times. For example, (this one I’ve got to admire Matt for), Zach was down to 1.92 Yuan on his phone and Matt had kindly added 50 Yuan onto Zach’s phone on his way home.

Besides my excitement for this coming week, I spent time with my sister Gina this weekend. We played basketball and we took a walk. I’ve made a deal to go outside with her every Saturday. When we went to the basketball court, we just tried shooting hoops. Just this week, Gina had amazed everyone by scoring 7 out of 8 shots. I wanted to see it for myself. However, her luck wasn’t always with her. As for me, I definitely am not good with shooting hoops. Afterwards, Gina and I practiced running. This coming Friday, Gina will be competing in the 50 M at school, as well as the 1000 M relay. Everyone around me seems to be runners—Gina, Gina’s cousin Linan, Zach, my friend Jing, and my other friend Thomas.

Gina and I estimated 50 M and practiced our dashes. After 10 M, Gina had surged passed me. She has these speedy short legs. However, if we competed in speed-walking, my longer legs can beat hers. I don’t think I’ve ever truly beaten her because when I run up to her, she breaks into a run. After we got tired, we sat down and just chatted. It felt good to sit outside with a nice breeze and sunny blue skies. It was a really nice sister bonding moment, talking about boys, the past, and friends.

The next day I took a walk with my grandpa to the supermarket. He bought some vegetables and meat while I bought Oreos, jelly, milk, and chips. These little treats could definitely help at the Expo, in case the vendor prices were outrageous. As we walked, Grandpa was telling me about his perspective of Northeastern China. He had been living here since he was 21. Now, he is 77. I loved his stories when he talked about the Korean War and his life in Szechuan, his home province. I’ve connected with everyone in this family, especially with my elders.

Last week, Mom told me that Dad will be going on a very long business trip—1 and a half months. I might not be seeing him before I return to America. I asked Gina what was the longest time her dad had been gone and she said, “A year.” I was so shocked. The longest time my dad has ever been gone is two weeks, and that was when he visited China. When I asked her the longest time her mom has been gone, Gina said, “One week. What about your mom?” I said, “6-8 months.” For Gina, she has always had a motherly figure. For me, I depended on my fatherly figure. My dad was the go-to person for numerous things—math, science, Chinese, English, history, common sense, etc. He taught me how to drive, supported my music lessons, and captured my childhood and teenage years through his camera lens. I felt sorry for Gina that a fatherly figure couldn’t be there for her more often, but I think she has learned to cope with his absence, as so have I.

Posted by myscope 18:28 Archived in China Tagged events Comments (0)

Vignettes

April 11, 2010

sunny 10 °C

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I’m down to exactly a week before the HSK exam, which tests for Chinese language proficiency in listening, reading, and writing. This morning, I woke up at 7 a.m. to sunshine, blue skies and no clouds. I got dressed and went downstairs for breakfast. I ate purple-colored porridge with spicy cabbage. Afterwards, I went back upstairs to do more practice tests. I make myself proud to say that I finished two timed reading comprehension tests. I used to score 30 out of 50, but now I am always scoring around 40 points. My test score so far is 43.

After I finish my tests, I grade them and review the questions I have missed. If I missed the question because I didn’t know the Chinese words, I will write it down on a separate notebook that records my mistakes. My last step is to write those Chinese characters over and over, as well as writing the English definition. You could say the process is quite long, but it has done me much good.

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I feel bad that I haven’t shown you much of my daily life, especially since there’s only two months left to my study abroad. Therefore, you will find more photos that could show you my reality. In addition, I give credit to my friend Matt for taking some of the Harbin pictures. If you could be in Harbin right now, you will find yourself hit by spring. The wind can really pick up and blow dirty city dust into your eyes. I have got to buy myself a pair of shades the next I am out shopping.

Last Friday, we had a special AFS meeting because we all created cultural dishes. Now the funny thing about American culture is that it encompasses all other cultures. If you told me to name American dishes, I would tell you, “Pizza, burgers, hot dogs, French fries, spaghetti, macaroni and cheese, mashed potatoes and gravy, sloppy Joe, and American cheese.” I could tell you that an American breakfast is totally different. Maybe I will eat a yogurt (that requires a spoon), or a bagel, French toast, pancakes, sausage links, bacon, and scrambled eggs. Or even, a PBJ. At the AFS meeting, I made PBJ’s, which were made out the leftovers from Nancy’s egg-in-toast idea. The Italians made Nancy’s egg-in-toast a HUGE hit! The Italians had made the most delicious tiramisu ever because the coffee flavor was all inside the cake, and the whipped cream on top was just delicious. Hopefully, one of them will teach me how to make tiramisu.

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Recently, I celebrated my host mom’s birthday. I gave her two letters, one written in Chinese and the other in English, as well as 7 pictures that comes from my collection of photos from this year. I have been thinking of doing a serious yearbook. In addition, my class has agreed to do a yearbook. Therefore, I want to get more pictures with my classmates, and especially of the classroom.

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Well tomorrow, I am back to the weekday schedule. Wish me luck as I study!

Posted by myscope 08:00 Archived in China Tagged events Comments (0)

Back to the Past

Volunteering at a Kindergarten March 26, 2010

overcast -12 °C

I always felt that children exhausted me terribly. They are always filled with so much excitement and I think that possibly their lively energy can transfer onto me. However, that doesn’t prove true. The experience reminded me of my time volunteering at Language Stars, the language camp last summer. Helping young children learn or behave is always tiring.

That morning, our AFS group was split. Zach, Nancy, Matt, and a few others from Harbin No. 73 and No. 14 Senior High School went to the Dragon Tower, the tallest steel tower in Asia. I was kept behind because I was going to join another group. Our second group went to the kindergarten near the Dragon Tower. I paired up with Thomas and we were taken to see our teacher who taught Second-year Kindergarteners. In China, children attend kindergarten for three years before they attend elementary school.

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My teacher had not told us to prepare any material therefore I only arrived with my camera and a smile. Thomas had also not prepared. I borrowed some coloring sheets from some other No. 73 students. When Thomas and I entered the classroom, we were asked if we had prepared anything. We both shook our heads. We introduced ourselves and took the children to the bathroom for potty break. Guys and girls pee together, but they are separated by a wall. That was probably the most shocking part of my day.IMG_3312a.jpg

Soon, we went to Activities room where students had kits and completed puzzles. I worked with my little friend Dudu. We were learning what is left and what is right. Thomas sat across from me and was helping a girl plot points on a foam piece. Dudu completed his homework quickly so Dudu and me chatted. He talked about games, his family, and even cameras. Before we left the room, Dudu invited me to come to his house! He’s a real sweet boy.

We were called to come downstairs to eat lunch. I was shocked to see Zach and the other students who had gone to the Dragon Tower that morning. Apparently, they came by to have lunch with us and join us in the afternoon. Lunch was delicious but the portions were too tiny. It was mushrooms with rice.

Lately, I have been eating in smaller portions and working out more. One time I looked in the mirror and realized that eating Harbin’s famous savory meats had inflated my face. I have to mentally tell myself every meal to chew more and swallow less, mentally lowering and slowing down my intake. I eat too fast. I have already tried this for two weeks and it has helped me so much. I realized I don’t need so much food to make me full and I can control my intake. Most of the time, I eat more greens than meat. One thing that irritates me is that someone likes to make stereotypes off of me.

For example, before I picked up my chopsticks for dinner, my host mom said, “Merry, eat more vegetables, ok?” It was as if she never watched me eat more vegetables than meat. At breakfast on weekdays, my host mom will remark, “Merry wears a lot of clothes. You know, foreigners wear a lot of clothes more than Chinese people.” I faked a laugh. Only if she knew that when I use to play on a soccer team, other kids and parents would wear shorts in 30 F. I don’t like it when people feel confident about themselves when they have drawn a massive conclusion from one situation. It reminds me of one time I sat down to dinner with my host parent’s friends who were very important people at my host parent’s workplace. The most important person at the table, the head of the Agriculture Department of Harbin province, had said something along the lines of, “When foreigners come to China, they think they know everything about China’s culture after one month. After two months, they realize they don’t. After 6 months, they realize they have much to learn.” I think the same thing could apply to those who think they can draw a conclusion in a short amount of time.

After lunch, we were going to give a presentation to the kindergarten teachers and tell them about our country’s kindergartens. Ben, an American who attends No. 14 High School, was my partner in conducting research. We were supposed to look up kindergartens in America, but Ben and I reflected on our experiences in preschool and kindergarten. During our reflection, I realized that this was the time of our life when we were forced to abide by society’s rules, stuffing our heads with morals and values, like integrity and respect. It was our first practice at communication—reading, writing, speaking, and listening. If we had misbehaved, we experienced our first discipline. It was the beginning of a long arduous journey—remembering the steps of the leaders before us, building common sense, and all the life skills we would need—that was going to last into our twenties.

I found reflecting on my younger years meaningful and interesting. I found similarities and differences when comparing it to Ben’s life in Seattle. When we finished research, we went downstairs. Zach and Nancy were going to present our research.

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Afterwards, we returned to our classrooms. Thomas and I sat around talking for 40-50 minutes because the children were still napping. I hadn’t spoken to Thomas for that long since a really long. It felt good to catch up and know that a person from the past is still your friend. We talked nonstop about everything and laughed at each other’s silly lives, just the two of us. I used to feel like there was a 4-inch thick glass wall between us. The wall was so thick that I could only tell he was on the other side but we couldn’t talk. Today, that wall smashed by another’s hand when we worked together with our teacher. That other hand is what I would call Fate.

I am absolutely exhausted, but in a good way. I had less of a distance with the other AFS students and understood them better. We finished volunteering at 3 p.m. Ben had invited all of us to go to Hamamas, a dining place. After we had gotten a taxi, I realized that we were running short of time. I wanted to make sure to get back to school before 6 pm. I told Raffaele, the Italian from No. 14 that we will come next time.

Zach, Nancy, Matt, and I were hungry so we went to The Hole, a restaurant off of Central Street. We ate a plate of Fried Eggs and Tomato and a plate of Di San Xian (地三鲜). That's eggplants, peppers, and potatoes. I was absolutely stuffed. When I had dinner with my family, I ate half of what I usually ate.

Maybe the children did exhaust me, but maybe I am exhausted from my journey back to the past.

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Posted by myscope 22:29 Archived in China Tagged volunteer Comments (0)

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